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Al fresco dining is one of the delights of summer, perhaps no more so than this year after Ontarians endured months of lockdowns and isolation. Food is a big part of the experience offered by Resorts of Ontario at its many lodges, resorts and inns.Picasa/PICASA/RESORTS OF ONTARIO

As restrictions loosen around most areas of the province, the culinary scene is reawakening, much to the delight of foodies everywhere.

A road trip of just a few hours may be just the ticket for an adventure that allows you to discover new tastes at eateries, restaurants and farms beyond your city. Regions that have traditionally welcomed summertime tourists with open arms are excited to be able to do so again.

“When COVID-19 struck, we were immediately faced with a unique situation in the food industry,” says Susan Boyle, director of marketing for Central Counties Tourism. “With the public vying to stay home and support local, there was an outpouring of public support for the agri-tourism industry and restaurants.”

Tourism has responded to the pandemic with some unique innovations that can make visits to some regions even more inviting. Foodie fare, experiences and updates can be just a mouse click away.

Central Counties Tourism covers York, Durham and Headwaters, which created the YDH Virtual Market. This website is set up like grocery store and showcases healthy, sustainable food from local farmers. There is even a geo coding app that allows people to find the closest products to their homes, Boyle says.

Ravine Vineyard and Estate Winery in the Niagara-on-the-Lake region offers full picnic baskets with dessert, blanket and Govino glasses included.NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

Try a virtual trip, then drive to York Durham Headwaters

The YDH virtual road trip allows you to explore everything from tomato-growing greenhouses to seasonally inspired menus without leaving the house.

Try cooking at home with Raul Sojo, executive chef of Durham College’s award-winning Bistro ’67 in Whitby, Ont. His video invites you into his kitchen to create delicious recipes with an emphasis on sustainable and ethically grown food from local farmers. While dining in at Bistro ’67 is not yet available, it is offering curbside takeout, a farmers market and patio service.

Mrs. Mitchell’s Restaurant in Violet Hill, Ont., about an hour’s drive northwest of Toronto, is one of the many restaurants in Ontario that have opened up. It offers a great escape to country hospitality with fresh food and flavours in a relaxed setting in the hills of Headwaters.

Discover foodie gems at Niagara-on-the-Lake

When the pandemic hit, popular tourism destination Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., responded with such innovations as Niagara Culinary Tours Food to Go, which delivers curated choices to your doorstep. Their Foodie Tour is also worth checking out.

A silver lining of the pandemic is that tourists are discovering that they don’t need to get on a plane for a rich culinary experience.

“We want to make people aware of what they have in their own backyard,” says Eduardo Lafforgue, president and chief executive officer of Niagara-on-the-Lake Chamber of Commerce. “Here, we have a culinary panorama, along with cultural and historical experiences. Health and safety are paramount for visitors, locals and staff.”

The bounty of summer is at the peak of freshness in farmers markets in the 1000 Islands area. The COVID-19 pandemic has made healthy, local, sustainable food top of mind for many consumers and buying from local farmers helps the economy as well.1000 ISLANDS ACCOMMODATION PARTNERS

Backhouse, which is in a small strip mall and is focused on hyperlocal foods, has innovated with a pop-up Italian restaurant within called Ruffino’s Pasta Bar & Grill, says Lafforgue, who favours the calamari friti with preserved lemon and chili aioli. The business has operated curbside and on the patio with social distancing protocols in July, but stay tuned to the website as pandemic health staging continues.

Another of Lafforgue’s foodie gems is the truffled mac and cheese on the lunch menu at The HobNob Restaurant & Wine Bar. “It’s unique and delicious.”

For succulent farm-to-fork flavours with a rich agricultural heritage, try Ravine Vineyard and Estate Winery. The black garlic glazed short ribs, which are also available in their takeout picnic dinner, are scrumptious, says Lafforgue. Want to dine al fresco? You can ask for a full picnic basket, with dessert, blanket and Govino glasses included.

Take the plunge for food and drink in Niagara Falls

Just an hour’s drive from the Greater Toronto Area, Niagara Falls remains a beloved tourism destination that offers a wide range of foods that draw on the region’s great weather and landscapes for farms, orchards and vineyards.

“We eat local and drink local with our wineries, breweries, distilleries and cider houses,” says Janice Thompson, president and chief executive officer of Niagara Falls Tourism.

The bounty of summer is at the peak of freshness in farmers markets in the 1000 Islands area. The COVID-19 pandemic has made healthy, local, sustainable food top of mind for many consumers and buying from local farmers helps the economy as well.1000 ISLANDS ACCOMMODATION PARTNERS

Feast ON is a certification program that recognizes businesses committed to sourcing Ontario grown and made food and drink and there are many Feast ON restaurants in the region, Thompson says. Offering everything from five-course tasting menus to barbecued feasts, there are a lot of venues from which visitors can choose, including the Old Stone Inn, Peller Estates Winery & Restaurant and Vineland Estates Winery.

“Restaurants are following health and safety guidelines from public health officials as we progress through the stages,” Thompson says. Patios and pop-up patios were open as the region moved toward Stage 3 reopening.

Visit the 1000 Islands for culinary charm

Along the Toronto to Montreal corridor, the town of Gananoque and the 1000 Islands region offer diverse culinary experiences and drink options including farmers markets.

Kathrine Christensen, executive director for 1000 Islands Accommodation Partners, says eateries have adapted to the pandemic and phase restrictions by offering takeout and getting patios installed to accompany changes that came with Phase 2 of reopening.

Here are just a few of her favourite destinations:

Wendy’s Country Market in Lyndhurst, Ont., offers a wide selection of locally grown produce, handcrafted preserves, meats, cheeses, baked goods and more. It’s the place to go when you’re seeking farm fresh and local products.

Purple House Café offers delicious, handcrafted pizzas that are made in an outdoor, wood-fired pizza oven. Their takeout pizzas and salads make for a perfect picnic at Joel Stone Park around the corner with sweeping views of the St. Lawrence River.

Gananoque Brewing Company is the local producer of craft beer for Gananoque. Located in a historic building, the brewery serves up local brews with locally sourced ingredients on its patio.

London’s calling you to explore markets and eateries

If you’re looking for farmers markets, it’s worth taking the two-hour drive west of Toronto to London, Ont., where you’ll find the Western Fair Farmers Market. Located in the heart of Old East Village, the market is home to more than 100 vendors of produce, baked goods, cheeses, prepared foods and locally handcrafted products.

The Western Fair District has a unique new offering called Park It At The Market, says Natalie Wakabayashi, director of culture and entertainment tourism at Tourism London.

“They’re bringing together food trucks, local vendors and more in a socially distanced atmosphere and encouraging some fun on Wednesday evenings,” she says.

Forest City Culinary Experiences works with community organizations to create unique culinary explorations. If you’re planning a trip, keep up to date by visiting their website for the latest on forays to restos, bars and indie cafes.

Here are Wakabayashi’s suggestions from a local on places to explore in London:

As a taco lover, she recommends Los Lobos for its atmosphere, décor and, of course, the food. “They have a cauliflower taco that is unbelievable,” Wakabayashi says. “There is a sheet of nachos that is so delicious that you just have to do it. Get a fresh pitcher of margaritas and you’ll love it.”

Barney’s Patio in the heart of London is an iconic spot to go for a summer drink, she says. “It’s a fun one. Get the Frank Sinatra, created by one of their bartenders, with lots of cherries.”

Wide selection from Resorts of Ontario

Food is a big part of the experience at Resorts of Ontario, which includes many resorts, lodges, country inns and housekeeping cottage resorts, says executive director Grace Sammut.

“Some of the styles of food developed at the resorts have come about due to multigenerational families, so there are even secret recipes,” Sammut says.

A case in point is Fern Resort in Ramara, Ont., near Orillia, which is the home of “rolls and honey.” When master baker Jim Pettapiece and his wife, Mimi, bought Fern Cottage in 1918, they discovered that a secret roll recipe paired perfectly with Crerar’s Honey, and the family businesses have partnered for four generations.

If you’re looking for the perfect steak, go no further than Elmhirst’s Resort on the north shore of Rice Lake, only 90 minutes from Toronto. The steak and frites dinner is memorable and there’s an underground wine cellar, too.

The pandemic has brought challenges to Resorts of Ontario, but business continues, welcoming everyone from families and adventurers to groups of fishermen and people seeking pampering, Sammut says.

“Our sector has worked heavily on risk mitigation and put into place protocols to assure the guest and workforce safety with sanitation and hygiene is a priority,” she says.

There’s no limit to places now that gastronomes can safely explore. Make sure you check with businesses for updates on their operations before you head to your destination.


Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.